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Central Vt. lawmakers grill state forest officials on proposed timber harvests in Worcester Range

A green and brown trail sign stands against a snowy backdrop.
Abagael Giles
Vermont Public
The Worcester Range is a popular destination for hiking.

Vermont’s Department of Forests, Parks and Recreation is in the midst of writing the first ever comprehensive management plan for the Worcester Management Unit — and the process has proven controversial, both with lawmakers and with the public.

The roughly 19,000-acre swath of public land contains some of central Vermont’s most beloved recreation areas, including Mt. Hunger, Stowe Pinnacle and Elmore State Park.

In its draft plan released late last year, the department proposes opening about 2,000 acres up to potential timber harvests. And it proposes adding about 5,500 acres to a special category of land managed with very little human intervention.

Most of the timber harvests are proposed on the eastern flank of the range, above the towns of Middlesex and Worcester. The area contains headwaters for the Lamoille and Winooski Rivers and residents have voiced concern about how even the selective timber harvests FPR proposes might affect flood resilience in communities downstream.

More from Vermont Public: Proposed Worcester Range plan highlights tensions over forest management amid climate change

FPR Commissioner Danielle Fitzko told the House Energy and Environment Committee on Thursday morning that she stands by the plan, and believes it is in line with Vermont’s conservation goals and climate commitments.

Of the nearly 700 comments FPR received over its draft plan, Commissioner Fitzko said nearly all expressed grave concern about how Vermont’s forests will fare in a changing climate, and about biodiversity.

“Many of the comments go one step further to make a passionate plea to halt all logging on the Worcester Range, now and forever, suggesting this is in the best interest for the natural and human worlds,” she said.

“We know these comments are coming from a very good place,” the commissioner added, “the same place that motivates our staff of experts to recommend well-planned, ecologically based forest management.”

Fitzko told lawmakers the department feels that forest management is an important tool for restoration. She says Vermont’s forests are too uniform in age and not complex in structure, which makes them vulnerable to climate change and pests.

But others in the state have pushed back on that claim, saying the on average 100- to 120-year-old forests in the Worcester Range are well on their way to becoming old — a landscape Vermont is lacking in right now.


According to FPR, the Worcester Range supports 27 natural communities, and is a key wildlife corridor connecting the Adirondacks with the Northeast highlands of Vermont, and Maine and Canada’s Gaspe Peninsula to the north.

On Thursday, House lawmakers pressed department staff about whether the draft plan aligns with Vermont’s conservation goals.

Last year the Legislature passed the Community Resilience and Biodiversity Protection Act, which sets a goal to permanently conserve 30% of Vermont’s land by 2030 and 50% by 2050.

The Agency of Natural Resources and Vermont Housing and Conservation Board are in the process of inventorying conserved land in the state, with a plan due back to lawmakers next year for how to reach the new goal.

And some in the committee asked why the Worcester Range Long Range Management plan needs to proceed before Vermont’s 30 by 30 planning is finalized.

Rep. Dara Torre, a Democrat from Moretown, asked, “Is there any reason not to hold up this management plan?”

Fitzko said FPR feels the plan aligns well with Vermont’s 30 by 30 goal.

“It’s just aligning those definitions when they come out with the inventory, because the Worcester Range will be part of the inventory, as will all state lands,” Fitzko said, referring to the fact that the area is already permanently protected from development.

The view looking down the spine of a ridge, with krummholz close up top and the rest of the frame giving way to fall foliage and deciduous trees.
Erika Mitchell
The view from atop Mt. Elmore, the northernmost peak in the Worcester Range.

Torre pressed on, asking if the commissioner could foresee updates to the Long Range Management Plan in the future, and Fitzko said it was too soon to tell.

State Lands Manager Jim Duncan, with FPR, also pointed out that there will be no large clear cuts as part of the new plan — and that should help assuage concerns from the public about water quality and flood impacts.

Rep. Avram Patt, a Democrat from Worcester, said he didn’t think that was the problem.

“One of the chief issues in Worcester and Middlesex is the water flows below where you would be doing forestry practices,” Patt said. “The issue is that, as you know, we were within inches of flowing over the spillway at the Wrightsville Reservoir,” Patt continued, referring to the July floods.

“And so we’re not talking about whether it’s going to cause an additional foot of water level, we’re talking about whether it’s going to cause an additional four or five inches of water level. That’s where people are coming from.”

But Duncan pushed back on that, saying, “I think I’d like to offer that what we’d be offering is future protection by growing a healthier, more diverse, complex forest.”

Rep. Larry Satcowitz, a Democrat from Randolph, said he doesn’t doubt that the department uses science to inform its work, but that there is still room for politics and human judgment in designing a plan like this one.

"This seems like a really wonderful opportunity for us to maximize old forests in this one small part of the state, given the fact that it's publicly owned, and it's a pretty large relatively large contiguous area," he said.

The committee asked for FPR to return and testify in the future with more information about how the department considers water quality impacts in its planning and what the forest management practices that are proposed look like on the ground.

Read the full draft of the plan here.

Have questions, comments or tips? Send us a message.


Corrected: February 16, 2024 at 6:20 PM EST
This article has been updated to correct the spelling of Rep. Larry Satcowitz's name.
Abagael is Vermont Public's climate and environment reporter, focusing on the energy transition and how the climate crisis is impacting Vermonters — and Vermont’s landscape.

Abagael joined Vermont Public in 2020. Previously, she was the assistant editor at Vermont Sports and Vermont Ski + Ride magazines. She covered dairy and agriculture for The Addison Independent and got her start covering land use, water and the Los Angeles Aqueduct for The Sheet: News, Views & Culture of the Eastern Sierra in Mammoth Lakes, Ca.
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